Countering Christian Apologists. Important work.

If mainstream classical scholars are to keep people with an agenda from scaling the walls and inserting their beliefs into the academic agenda.. this is the lengths they have to go to. All I can do is reblog and congratulate the author.


interview-david-marshallI have focused heavily on reading Greek authors and doing academic work over the past couple weeks, which has freed up time this Friday to address some recent activity in Christian apologetics circles. Recently, Christian apologist David Marshall wrote a critique of me on his blog Christ the Tao. The incident started about a month ago, however, when Marshall was asked by a friend to post a critical comment on an essay of mine, which apparently his friend found troubling.

The essay that Marshall commented on is titled “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament,” which I wrote in August 2013. After publishing the essay, I received positive comments from James McGrath (professor of New Testament language and literature) here, Michael Kok (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies) here, and Erlend MacGillivray (Ph.D. candidate in New Testament Studies) here. I do not mean to imply…

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The God Debate

I think the psychological considerations about the existence of God have considerable merit.


God - people praisingOn May 20 I participated in a four person debate about the existence of God at Western Washington University. On the ‘yes’ side were Mike Raschko and Mark Markuly from the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. On the ‘no’ side were Bob Seidensticker and me. Here are my remarks:

Does God exist? Before we can even consider the question, we have to ask, which God? God can be defined in such a way as to make this question unanswerable, in practice and even in theory. Some versions of God can’t be either proven or disproven, and in that space all any of us can do is to make our own best guesses, based on what seems likely or probable. On the other hand, sometimes, even when we don’t know exactly what is real, some possibilities can be ruled out.

The God of the Bible

As a psychologist…

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Daesh to the finish line

One aspect of the whole ISIS/ISIL/Daesh phenomena that confounds many of us is how it can possibly attract some of our Muslim youth with its bloodthirsty credo and actions. The explanations of our politicians, with their careful eye on the imperative of social cohesion, ring hollow.

Biblical scholar Robert M Price has produced a very thoughtful article attempting to understand the ISIS phenomena, and the issue of what could possibly attract young Muslims to its cause. Most usefully, he expounds broad similarities with Christian New Religious Movements of the 1960s and 1970s as regards the mindset. This is at least a point of identification that we non-Muslims can latch onto, even if the comparison stops with the sheer blood-lust of ISIS.

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Dating Early Christian Writings

I’ve been very silent these past few months, getting assignments out and the like. I will start uploading new posts very soon.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a very good and accessible post on the Westar Institute’s site: How to date early Christian writing:

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No Zen puns: An introduction to Zen Buddhism

““What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This short question,’or koan, sums up much of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. What is the educated, twenty-first century man or woman to make of this seemingly irrational nonsense? Many claim that Zen is nothing more than an elaborate trick that has been played on a gullible public for almost 1,400 years; others believe that it’s the single most important shift in human consciousness” [Chaline, p. 6]

In this post, I will discuss the form of Buddhism most commonly identified by its Japanese title, ‘Zen’, but also known as ‘Ch’an’ in Chinese and ‘Son’ in Korean.

“Zen Buddhism” is a term widely recognised in the Western world. Indeed, if most Westerners were asked to name terms associated with Buddhism, they might name “Buddha”, “Zen”, or “the Dalai Lama”, and not much else. Yet few people would know what Zen actually is.

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Why the study of religion is a maze, full of dead ends and bear traps

Neil Godfrey is a blogger who writes mostly on Christian origins at Vridar. As far as I know, he is a librarian who has no formal qualifications in the field. But he is deeply analytical in his approach and frequently gets up the nose of scholars who do have those qualifications, questioning their underlying assumptions.

Godfrey has just written a superb piece on the nature of scholarship in the field of Christian origins. It expresses so well the minefield that has to be negotiated to try and reach the truth of an issue when you’re dealing with people’s heart-felt beliefs; matters that deeply define their self-identity. And when those heart-felt beliefs are held by highly credentialed scholars, it can be very difficult for a layman like me to penetrate arguments flavoured by those beliefs.

I am currently straining through an entry by Karen Armstrong on the life of Muhammad in the Encyclopedia of Religion. I have barely finished Page 1 and my margin notes feature annoyed jottings like “BS” and “Evidence?” She’s working from sources that are 200 years after the event. If the gospel writers can create devotional fiction just 40 – 70 years after their subject lived – and this has tied Historical Jesus scholars in knots for the past 100 years – imagine the fun when Historical Muhammad scholarship really gets going!

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Favourite Religion Podcasts

Along with following blogs, another way of getting right to the matters you’re really concerned about in today’s time-poor world is podcasts. I listen to podcasts when I’m driving, riding my bike, doing housework, gardening – just about any activity I’m doing alone. I’ve been listening to podcasts for maybe seven years now and over that time, some have died off, or dropped off my list. But listed below are the ‘stayers’; podcasts that have endured on my ipod (my daughter’s cast-off, works perfectly), in no particular order are:

Freethought Radio – Hosted by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, this is the podcast of the Freedom From Religion Association. Occasionally interesting guests, together with reporting on FFRF’s latest First Amendment legal challenges. The latter can be quite bizarre… like “only in America” bizarre. Stopping football coaches from joining their team’s pre-match prayers, for example (it’s a church/state separation issue!). My reaction ranges from dismissing the triviality to thankfulness that we don’t have to fight creeping theocracy in Australia.

Inquisitive Minds – a religion studies professor from Concordia U and his PhD student discuss religion. This one has only recently started, but already I’ve greatly appreciated their insight. It’s always good to hear a mainstream view in a field so often saturated with sectarian slants.

Reasonable Doubts – despite it’s derivative title (a play on the repugnant William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’), this is about the best podcast out there on the topic of religion. A panel of university scholars discuss topical news, counter-apologetics (‘God thinks like you’) and mythology. Occasionally beyond me when they discuss psychology of religion, but always top-notch in their arguments and reasoning.

The Infinite Monkey Cage – a superb BBC podcast in which particle physicist and science educator Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince lead a panel discussion on an issue of science, with a studio audience. Highly informative and entertaining.

The Bible Geek – New Testament scholar Robert M Price answers listeners’ questions about The Bible and religion. A font of knowledge with a skeptical stance, Price’s willingness to read out questions in a variety of accents (‘Billy Graham’, ‘German scholar’, Texan, his execrable ‘Australian’, etc.) belies his serious intent and deep insight. Price will answer any question, no matter how basic, with patience and respect.

The Human Bible – Price also produces an occasional podcast for the Centre for Inquiry, and more introductory in its presentation than The Bible Geek. Aimed at scientists and atheists who never went to sunday school and don’t know what The Bible and Christianity is all about. Enjoyable regular segments include ‘Is that in the Bible??’ and ‘Apologetics means never having to say you’re sorry’.

Unbelievable? – One that I used to be very keen on, but these days I only download particular episodes that pique my interest. Produced by Christian apologists, it usually has a ‘meeting of minds’ of an apologist and an atheist, or some other opposing views. There have been some outstanding episodes in the past, but there are also constant (and annoying) reminders that the producers’ stance is wholeheartedly for what I call “Sunday School Christianity” and their ultimate aim is evangelism, not the advancement of knowledge.

Sunday Night Safran – John Safran and Father Bob McGuire host a show on JJJ, with guests, discussing “religion, politics, and all things ethnic”. Usually interesting and entertaining, Safran can be occasionally (and annoyingly) ignorant, whilst Father Bob’s amiable and potty Catholic priest persona belies a man with actual views on matters (but views he doggedly keeps to himself, whilst on the show playing a chameleon who agrees with all the guests, including the crazy ones).

I’m keen to know of any podcasts you listen to that have a religion bent. There’s always room for more on my antique ipod!

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